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  • Related Ailments: Chronic Pain, Arthritis, Joint Pain
Cannabis is becoming a daily conversation for healthcare professionals, and veterinarians are beginning to wade into the discussion. As the founder of VetCBD, Dr. Tim Shu is combining his knowledge of medical cannabis with his expertise in veterinary medicine to help educate people about the benefits of treating animals with cannabis-based products. We recently caught up with the California-based doctor to discuss cannabinoid therapy in animals, the significance of the endocannabinoid system, and the parallels between cannabis treatment in people and pets.  

What ailments are cannabis-based products like CBD and hemp currently being used to treat in animals?

In terms of real-world experience, we’ve seen it used for pain, anxiety, inflammation, nausea, seizures and cancer. We’ve been able to see cannabinoids used for all types of pain – chronic, acute and neuropathic – but we focus on chronic pain and neuropathic pain. Epilepsy is also fairly common in dogs and cannabis has been a life-saver for many seizure patients.

How can cannabis benefit animals?

Oftentimes we’re dealing with arthritis, joint disease and intervertebral disc disease, and we see very good use for [cannabis] in those. A lot of people don’t realize that animals can get stressed and anxious, like people do, and we see that a lot with separation anxiety and noise anxiety. The nice thing about cannabinoids, especially CBD, is that it can relieve anxiety without causing sedation. 

In other words, there are some parallels between cannabis therapy in animals and humans? 

Right. And the whole reason why is because animals and people have an endocannabinoid system that influences all kinds of physiological functions. All vertebrate animals – mammals, fish, reptiles, birds – have an endocannabinoid system. In fact, endocannabinoids have been found throughout the animal kingdom, but some of these invertebrates may not have the same kind of endocannabinoid system. Researchers have even found endocannabinoids in insects, like anandamide in fruit flies. 

How important is understanding cannabinoids and, particularly, the distinction between CBD and THC to the discussion of treating animals with cannabis?

The cannabis plant is a pharmacologically-rich plant that has hundreds of compounds. They’ve identified over 100 cannabinoids alone, and a number of terpenes and flavonoids. And so there are all these different components to the plant that have all these therapeutic uses, so it’s really important for people to understand that it’s not just THC; there’s a lot of other cannabinoids in there and many of them, like CBD, CBC and CBG, don’t cause a high. 

In the context of treating animals with cannabis, how important is education? 

It’s absolutely crucial. Cannabis can be used for a lot of different medicinal reasons in people but when it comes to animals, some people have heard about it, but most are surprised and have no idea that it’s something that can be utilized effectively in animals. 

Are there areas of research that seem more promising than others? 

Some of the areas of research include pain, anxiety, nausea and seizures. There are more studies coming out looking at the use of cannabinoids in conditions like cancer and metabolic issues like diabetes. What we’re starting to realize is just how extensive the endocannabinoid system is – we find cannabinoid receptors in the cardiovascular system, the endocrine system, the skin, the musculoskeletal system, and the reproductive organs. It seems to be found throughout the body, so we’re really just scratching the surface of cannabinoid therapeutics. 

In an ideal world, how does the discussion of this type of treatment option progress in the near future? 

We’re already seeing progress. There was a bill passed in California recently that will allow veterinarians to start discussing this treatment with their clients. The important takeaway is that cannabis will be a major point of discussion in many disease processes, because of how extensive the endocannabinoid system is. The interaction of cannabis with the endocannabinoid system will lead to new avenues of therapeutic treatment, and the more that we learn about it, the more applicable it will be. Veterinarians are receiving questions from their clients about cannabis on a daily basis, so it’s already becoming a part of everyday discussion. 

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